Archive | December 2017

Digimon Topics: Ryo Akiyama Part 3: Tag Tamers

(To check out Part 2 on Ryo in Anode/Cathode Tamer click HERE)

So, a quick recap on Ryo’s chronology within the world of Digimon Adventure. After the eight Digidestined have defeated Apocalymon and saved both the Digital World and the Real World, but before the events of Our War Game! when they fight Diaboromon a few months later, a young boy is drawn into his computer by a voice. The boy is Ryo, a young kid about the age as the older Digidestined (Tai, Matt, Sora, Izzy, Mimi) and the voice is Tai’s Digimon partner Agumon who has called upon multiple children across the world. Only Ryo responded however and was dumb enough to touch the computer and be drawn in to it (thus is the fate of a Digidestined). An evil Digimon, Milleniummon, reversed time and brought back all of the Dark Masters, drug the Digidestined back into the Digital World, and has them and their Digimon (minus Agumon) held for ransom. Ryo fights them all using the help of Agumon and the other Digimon as he frees them, eventually reaching and defeating Milleniummon and returning to his home.

A few months later, during Our War Game! he is purportedly watching the vents from a PC outside somewhere in Turkey. Here’s the first, and I think only, time when chronology for Ryo gets thrown out of whack. On August 3rd, 2000, Bandai released their second Ryo game for the WonderSwan console: Digimon Adventure 02 Tag Tamers. In it, Ryo is friends with Ken (a Digidestined child from Digimon Adventure 02) and the two are watching the events of Our War Game! from Ken’s terminal in his bedroom. Now, either Ryo is in Turkey watching the battle against Diaboromon without Ken or he is with Ken in Japan. As the game was released later than the film, and the chronology begins to sort itself out later, we can assume that Ryo is not in Turkey, retconn out this cameo, and chock it up to a similarity of character design between two different children who just happen to be watching the same events transpire. Or we can ragequite the continuity and call bs outright. I prefer the former, but find no fault in the latter approach. To each his own.

After the battle against Diaboromon is over and Omegamon has won the day, Veemon appears on Ken’s terminal with a D-3 he offers to Ryo. Ryo takes the device and Ken follows them into the game where they find out that another Diaboromon was let free into the system and that Tai and Agumon have been frozen solid and remain trapped in the Digital World by his powers. Ryo and Veemon venture out, find Diaboromon, easily defeat the Mega-level Digimon who turns out to be just a weak clone of the original Diaboromon, and find that the real mastermind behind the whole plot is Ryo’s old foe: Milleniummon.

Ken awakens in the Digital World within a forest clearing where his chosen Digimon Wormmon appears to aid him against some evil Digimon closing in to attack. When Ken awakens, Wormmon brings him to Gennai and Piximon, and the three convince Ken that he is a Digidestined (even though he feels inadequate and imperfect and therefore not up to the task). Ken and Wormmon then go on to fight their way through Dungeons on one side of the Digital World toward the Primary Village whilst Ryo and Veemon fight their way to Milleniummon’s continent on the other side of the world. Ken finds a door in the Primary Village and Ryo finds that he cannot fight Milleniummon head on and must gain a key to the door that leads into the heart of Milleniummon himself. This key is the Digi-egg of Desire, which you gain by progressively picking up Digi-egg fragments in dungeons.

Once the Digi-egg of Desire is complete, Ryo and Ken meet up in the Primary Village, unlock the door to Milleniummon’s heart, defeat him once again and restore the Digital World to its original form, thereby unfreezing and freeing Tai and Agumon in the process. But before Milleniummon is defeated completely, he breaks himself down into black gears and shoots himself toward Ryo. Ken sees the gears, jumps in the way and blocks them from hitting Ryo, thereby getting infected by the gears himself in the process (an event referenced in Digimon Adventure 02 Episode 43 released in February 4, 2001, the following year of the game’s release). Ryo and Ken return home. Again Ryo leaves empty-handed and with no Digimon partner as Veemon will later partner with Davis (and Agumon in the first game was already the partner Digimon of Tai). Ken will return with Wormmon and progressively grow crueler and crueler to his new friend before finally giving into the evil power of the black gears of Milleniummon and becoming the Digimon Emperor one year after the events of this game Digimon Adventure 02: Tag Tamers.

So there you have it. Ryo’s character was retconned into having a larger, more important role within the Digimon Adventure universe. Without him, Milleniummon would have run rampant in Anode/Cathode Tamer and the Digidestined would have been destroyed, all their battles from the first series would have been for naught. Later, Ryo’s actions once again saved the world and Ken saved him in return by blocking the black gears, preventing Ryo from becoming infected (which would have been an even more significant problem than Ken’s infection as we will see from the events of the third and fourth WonderSwan Ryo games), and ending up with Ken becoming the Digimon Emperor and setting into motion the events of Digimon Adventure 02. Ryo is instrumental to the plot lines of the first two Digimon series and will continue to be so, but his role is much more mysterious than even previously established and will eventually extend far beyond even the Digimon Adventure universe itself.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued with Part 4 on Digimon Adventure 02: D-1 Tamers]

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Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy-Day Circus (パンダ・コパンダ 雨降りサーカスの巻)

(If you missed it, check out my essay on the first Panda! Go, Panda! film!)

In 1972, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki scored a pretty lucrative hit with the first Panda! Go, Panda! film. For Takahata, this success led A Production Studios to offer him a job as director of the animated series Suzunosuke of the Red Cuirass from the end of 1972 till the series end in 1973. But the studio also gave Takahata the go ahead to work on a sequel animation to the first Panda! Go, Panda! film.

The Panda! Go, Panda! films were short animations not suited for monetized release on television until years after theatrical release. But there was a problem with releasing the two films theatrically insofar as they are both around 30-40 minutes long each. Far too short for a feature length film. As a result, Toei played the films as opening shorts for their then-yearly Godzilla films. On December 17, 1972, Panda! Go, Panda! premiered alongside Godzilla vs. Gigan. And on the following year, Panda! Go, Panda! The Rainy-Day Circus premiered alongside Godzilla vs. Megalon.

The second film continues the adventures of Papa Panda, Pani, and Mimiko after the first film. Papa Panda and Pani still live in the local zoo, but Papa Panda now has a day job and often brings Pani to Mimiko’s house to visit. One night, they arrive back home late as a group to find a Circus Ringmaster and his employee rummaging through their home looking for something they have lost. They are scared away by the giant Papa Panda and later, Mimiko and the pandas find what their would-be burglars were searching for: A baby tiger named Tiny. Throughout these two vignettes of the burglars searching and then Pani searching, a second children’s fiction interest of Takahata and Miyazaki becomes apparent beyond that of Pippi Longstockings (whose character model Mimiko is based on): Goldilocks. Whereas Mimiko uses a regular toothbrush, Pani uses a small one and Papa Panda uses a large one. Their chairs in the kitchen and the sizes of their dinner plates are likewise aligned with their respective sizes. As Pani searches the house, he finds that his small towel was used by someone in the shower, his small french horn was played by someone and broken in the process, and Tiny is asleep in Pani’s small size bed.

Hi-jinks ensue as the gang bond with Tiny, go out on the town, visit the zoo, and eventually give Tiny back to his mother. But later, rains begin to pour down upon the city. They flood much of the valleys of the city and environs and even block access to the train tracks upon which the circus trains once traveled. The circus animals are trapped on board and it becomes the duty of Pani, Papa Panda, and Mimiko to save the day, which they do with relish.

The film is again, like the first, pretty thematically quaint and childish. But this can be forgiven because both Takahata and Miyazaki had young children at the time and wanted to create animations that their own children could enjoy with them. Nevertheless, there are again some great stylistic achievements in this installment of the Panda! Go, Panda! films. The opening night scenes of the Ringmaster and his croney invading Mimiko’s home are particularly beautifully animated with deep blues and blacks and careful attention to detail that makes the animation style closer to Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro than anything before in either Takahata’s or Miyazaki’s oeuvres. There is a really powerful scene of Mimiko and the pandas riding a bed as a raft along the waters toward town. the scene seems to take some inspiration from the phantasmagorical scenes of riding beds through the night sky envisioned by Winsor McCay more than sixty years prior in his Little Nemo in Slumberland comic series. The scene’s animator is the later- Ghibli staple and oft-times key animator Yoshifumi Kondo.

Whereas Takahata’s first animated film, Horus, five years prior was a hard-edged thematically adult tale of fantasy and revenge with stylistic violence and psychological realism that represents the 1st model of Studio Ghibli animation to come, the Panda! Go, Panda! films represent a 2nd model. A model wherein themes are less complex and more accessible to young children, but a beauty of animation is desired and the mark of mastery in animation, the pure and simple line, is achieved for the first time by these animators. With both of these keys in place, the future of Studio Ghibli animation was set into motion, but would not be called such for another 12 years. In the meantime, Takahata would develop a third stylistic innovation through his avant-garde approach in his next few films. This third approach would not carry over into the style of Miyazaki’s animation, and is as such, a uniquely Takahata phenomenon. but one that has also ultimately had a great deal of influence within Japanese animation as a whole and reveals Takahata to be potentially a more influential artist within the milieu of 20th century Japanese animation than even Miyazaki.

 

Ciao,

Cody Ward

[Next up: Jarinko Chie, Chie the Brat]

Calm Day (Gargantia Episode 5)

(If you missed part 4, check it out HERE)

Ledo’s quite literal meaning-full conversation with Amy’s little brother Bebel led Ledo to start questioning what the meaning of life really is. He once believed that human life was only meaningful insofar as it worked and fought to preserve itself and continue the species’ existence. In the Galactic Alliance of Humankind this meant that meaningful lives were spent fighting the Hideauze and ensuring human survival in space. For those born with weak physical constitutions, they could not be useful in this fight and as such, their literally contextually useless lives were meaningless.

Ledo has learned to extend meaning being the specific context of fighting the Hideauze, but still believes that human survival is first and foremost the right goal of all human action. Thus, in the new context of Gargantia he can see that the society functions and the people survive as long as everyone performs a duty. Here, we can discuss the social shift from the Galactic Alliance to Gargantia through a bit of Durkheimiam sociological theory. The Galactic Alliance of Humankind is a society wherein food is created artificially and no labor in the traditional sense need be performed. Except for fighting that is. All would-be Avalonian citizens must perform military duties to protect the species and as such, the division of labor is really low (you only have administrators or politicians, and a lower class of warriors). This social stratification is similar to a feudal system wherein most people perform the same jobs and find a common connection to each other as countrymen through a strong collective consciousness: here fueled by a fear of the Hideauze and a united ethos against them.

Whereas this former society is mechanical in its forms of solidarity, Gargantian society is more complex. The people of the society are more diverse and live widely different kinds of lifestyles with different approaches to life and moral problems. As such, the collective consciousness between them all is very weak. But each person performs a different duty that helps sustain society. This high division of labor creates a situation wherein everyone relies on one another for the system as a whole to work. This organic solidarity and mutual need is what provides and explains Gargantian social cohesion.

It it thought by many sociologists and philosophers that in a mechanical society with mechanical solidarity and strong collective consciousness, that people do not think very differently from one another. Their identities are firmly bound up inside their concepts of self as a citizen of a collective. However, a more liberal society based on mutual need allows for greater self-expression and freedom. Liberal societies allow for more freedom of expression, powerful identity formation, and less groupthink and PC codes for thought and speech (tell your conservative Uncle that over Christmas break and watch his head spin!). As such, what we are seeing in this and the previous episode of Gargantia is Ledo coming to terms with and trying to understand this new form of society, whilst simultaneously learning more about himself and who he is and wants to be in the process.

Back to the issue of meaning, Ledo still finds meaning only in use value within a society. We can see this when he plays the Ocarina he carved and Amy remarks upon its beauty. He responds that the ocarina is not useful, and therefore it has no meaning. Later, he realizes that he must get a job and make himself useful in Gargantian society or else remain in a state of depression. In the position of hanging over an abyss on a thin tightrope. But there’s a problem. Gargantian society is based on organic solidarity and mutual need, but is such a relatively small society that all jobs that must be performed are already being performed. There are no job openings that Amy can find for him. And when he looks for a job himself, the only one he finds is shoveling cow manure out of a barn (for use as fertilizer?). This proves too unappetizing for Ledo and he passes on the job.

Midday the fleet’s propulsion system shuts down. The commander has called for a manual shutdown in order to fix some technical problems onboard. All people who can work are supposed to be working, but the lackadaisical Pinion has different plans. He grabs Ledo, Bebel, Amy and some of her friends and plans a cookout for the day. Throughout the rest of episode, Pinion tries to find a way to cook the food without engine power and eventually settles on using Chamber’s metal exterior to do so, Amy and her friends go swimming with Ledo and later turn on the city’s sprinkler systems, and Ledo is sent with a voucher into the city’s bowels to find a man who has an ancient, very rare and coveted item that Pinion needs him to retrieve.

While in the city’s seedy side, Ledo sees firsthand some of the diversity one can expect of a large city. A group of crossdressers compliment him on his looks and try to get Ledo to join them in their work (Hey! There’s a job!). He just barely manages to escape them long enough to get the box from an old man who Pinion told him to meet, an old man who seems to deal in antiquities. But on the way back, Ledo must pass the crossdressers again and they chase him through the city. At one point he cluelessly and comically remarks to himself, “What is this? What did I do to them?” It doesn’t help that he still isn’t too well versed in Gargantian language.

When he returns to the cookout, it is revealed that inside the box is an old whiskey bottle filled with a prized and particularly delectable ponzu sauce that compliments the taste of beef quite well. The party has swelled to dozens of people and everyone has a great time swimming, eating, cavorting, and watching the sun sink low beyond the horizon. Amy reveals to Ledo that Pinion threw the party to cheer him up. That it did, but most importantly it was an opportunity to explore the city and do something for Pinion that ended up bringing pleasure to everyone at the cookout. But getting the sauce was not necessary because the food could have been consumed either way. Rather, the sauce enriched the taste of the food and the experience at the bonfire as well. This realization is the first step in dissolving the idea that usefulness and meaning are equivalent, because the evening surely meant something to everyone present and the sauce added it it, but none of these things were necessary to survival and useful toward that end.

Rather, they were enjoyable, just as is the music of the ocarina, and sometimes that’s just enough to bring about meaning, in its own small way.

 

Cody Ward

[Continued HERE]

Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands: Bad Luck and Impotence

(If you missed my previous essay on Refn’s Fear X check it out HERE)

In 2003, Nicolas Winding Refn had fallen on hard times. His last two films were box office failures and his film production company went bankrupt. He had tried the big budget Hollywood approach, failed, and left the Americas with his tail between his legs. He decided then, while in Denmark, to go back to basics. He re-hired his old cinematographer Morten Soborg and actors Mads Mikkelson and Zlatko Buric to create a second chapter in his Pusher film universe. It was a risky gambit and if it failed this might be the last chance he had to make feature films with anything like a budget. But he succeeded once again, the film was lucrative, and Refn went on to have a pretty robust career in the following years.

In the original Pusher film, Frank seemed on the brink of death if caught by any of the crime contingents in the Copenhagen underground world. He had pissed off too many people. Fans of Frank will be glad to hear that he somehow escaped the city and is referenced as having gone missing and being impossible to track down by the Serbian drug lord Milo.

Tonny and Frank were partners in crime at one time, but Frank went berserk and beat Tonny to a bloody pulp because he thought that Tonny ratted on him to the police. Ever since then, Tonny has had a hard time remembering events before then. The brain damage he sustained then seems to permanently affected his IQ and competency. In Pusher II, Tonny begins the story inside a prison. He owes money to the head honcho of a gang inside, protection money, and once released he goes to his father to work to earn it. His father Smeden, the Copenhagen underground’s Duke, gives him some money and reluctantly agrees to let him work at his garage stealing and turning over cars from dealerships and unsuspecting civilians.

Then comes the string of fuck-ups that proliferate and fill the space of the film. Tonny hasn’t had sex since before he went into the pen. now, his friend Kurt the Cunt offers him access to his harem of prostitutes for a night. But Tonny can’t get it up. His literal impotence in this scene is comical, but its source is hard to pinpoint for sure. Potentially caused by his brain injury, by stress, by feelings of inadequacy over his father constantly berating his stupidity. Whatever the cause, it’s hard to pinpoint a potential cause that is ultimately Tonny’s fault alone.

He steals a Ferrari off the street and brings it by his father’s shop as a gift. But The Duke can’t hock something like that at the drop of a hat. If it stays in the shop, cops might come nosing around and put him out of business. His father nearly beats him with a crowbar for his incompetence, but Tonny takes the car away, Later, he finds out that a prostitute he slept with before going to prison, Charlotte, has had a child. And she claims that its Tonny’s because although she’s slept with “half the town” he was only man unlucky and dumb enough to not pull out in time.

Tonny gets a job for his father with the rest of crew. They break into a car dealership, take five cars, and plan to bring them to the harbor where they will be stored in large crates for shipment to customers. As soon as the first car pulls out of the dealership, however, a woman hits it with her car on accident. One of the five men picks up the driver of the now wrecked vehicle and head on toward the checkpoint. Here, Tonny hasn’t fucked up, but the heist did not go off without a hitch and as such, The Duke isn’t overly praiseworthy. Soon thereafter, Tonny goes to visit his mother to borrow some money, but finds that she no longer lives in the apartment she once did on account of her passing away some months ago.

Another time, Tonny and Kurt rent a hotel room to do a drug deal with Milo. They trade him cash for some white, but all Milo has is scag. And he won’t rescind the deal. Then one of his friends arrive with food for the group, but Kurt is paranoid and thinks its the cops when the doorbell rings. He quickly flushes the drugs down the toilet. Milo won’t refund the deal. He didn’t flush the drugs after all. Because of Kurt’s paranoia and stupidity, and Tonny’s bad luck to be there, the two are now in a bad position. They owe the front money for the drug deal. Kurt concocts a plan to evade reprisal. He has Tonny shoot him in the arm to make it look like the dealers took the money and the drugs. He then asks Tonny to come back to his house and wreck it with a baseball bat to make it look like they are out to get him. This will hopefully buy him some time. But there are two problems. One of Kurt’s prostitutes is in the house and Kurt beats her to death with a baseball to ensure she can’t say what actually happened. The second problem: the man they owe money to is revealed to Tonny to be The Duke, his father.

Instead of facing the music, Kurt runs away from Copenhagen, leaving Tonny with the debt to his father. The only way Tonny can think to avoid being killed by his father for his outstanding debts is to offer to kill his father’s ex-wife Jeanette who is the mother of Tonny’s half-brother. This will end her continued attempts to gain custody of the boy and make The Duke pretty happy. But when it comes time to kill the woman, Tonny again can’t get it up to do the deed and instead performs a different sort of wet job with the woman in her cathouse. When he comes to his father the next day to tell him that he couldn’t go through with it, but will try again, The Duke goes into a rage and tells Tonny how much he hates him and has always hated him. Tonny then kills the Duke.

His father was the force that pushed him into the world of crime in the first place. He was man who did not give Tonny the guidance and care he needed to develop into a strong-willed, able sort of person. By killing the father, Tonny overcomes his fixations and himself. He takes the reins of his future into his own hands, while simultaneously ensuring that he will no longer be safe in Denmark. He must, like frank, escape the city and live a fugitive life. But hopefully in that head-down, anonymous lifestyle he can become a stronger, more virtuous person. As he plans to leave the city, he goes to Charlotte’s apartment and when she leaves and her girlfriend runs off to the bathroom, Tonny makes his move and takes his child away from the criminal underworld.

In a way, Tonny became the father over time. Both had sex with a prostitute and conceived a child. Both lived in a criminal underground and hocked cars. But Tonny knows he is fucked up because of the experience and won’t allow his child to be raised by a crazed, coke-head, whore in that same environment. So he takes the child and flees. And hopefully, escapes unnoticed to somewhere he can raise the boy away from the seedy sort of life and socioeconomic conditions that made him the way he is, and made his father the way he was.

The film ends with the sustained image of the back of Tonny’s head while riding a bus out of town. The tattoo emblazoned across it reads “Respect.” Something he so dearly craved from his father for years, but finally realized he could only gain through the actions of his own hands, the grabbing of the reigns of his own sleigh-fate, and through respecting himself first and foremost. And if that ain’t a lesson, I don’t what is.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Pusher III]

The Flute of Reconciliation (Gargantia Episode 4)

(If you missed it, check out Part 3 HERE)

Ensign Ledo is beginning to become acclimated to Gargantian society. He has learned to speak and recognize a few words and phrases in their language without need of Chamber’s translation and now, he has been given a residence in an abandoned factory near the docks where his Machine Caliber Chamber moves around heavy crates and storage units. This bit of work puts money in Ledo’s pocket, but requires no real work from him, and as such he sits around carving ocarinas out of Hideauze claws he got from his last space battle, and generally, looks gloomy and depressed doing so.

At this point, the parallels between Ledo’s story and the story of Valentine Michael Smith- the protagonist of Robert Heinlein’s classic sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land- are pretty obvious. In the former, Ledo is from a human space-faring colony in the stars who comes to Earth as a young man, learns about Earth culture, and begins to change that culture in the process of his stay (Ledo has begun to do this through how he deals with pirates and the potential stability his presence qua deterrent could yield for Gargantia in the coming years, or even generations if Chamber is passed down to a future son). In the latter, the novel, Valentine is a human being raised on Mars who comes to Earth as a young man and must go through some of the same cultural acclimation and helps to change Earth society in the process. In this sense, we can think of Ledo as a character type (The Stranger in a Strange Land) whose narrative arc is familiar, and thus potentially popular, but also prone to stereotyping with little variation on the model, and therefore he could end up a fairly conventional protagonist. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Amy comes to visit Ledo at the docks and inquires what he is carving. He tells her about the Hideauze and his battles in space and how he came to get the nails. He also reveals that he does not know what he is carving, but Amy seems interested in them and he gives her one anyway. She decides that Ledo might be interested in meeting her younger brother Bebel, who is bedridden due to a weak constitution and genetic health problems, but is astute and inquiring and imaginative, and most importantly, really wants to meet Ledo to ask him about space. The revelation about Bebel confuses Ledo. He explains that in the Galactic Alliance, there are no family relationships as they are “inefficient, not needed.” He also seems confused about Bebel’s existence. He is unable to work and contribute to society physically. In the Galactic Alliance, frail humans like Bebel are eliminated at birth or before (the latter of which we as a society unfortunately seem to be headed toward as genetics improves and parents choose to terminate undesirable fetuses).

Amy is baffled by these revelations and insists upon bringing Ledo to visit Bebel, but first they visit Dr. Oldham. Known as The Sage, Dr. Oldham is generally considered to be the smartest man in Gargantia. He has an extensive library of books both pre and post atmospheric freeze-event. But the only book he has with any information relating to space flights is an old astronomy text that has little information helpful for Ledo in his attempts to contact the Galactic Alliance. Ledo complains to Oldham that Gargantian fleet is inefficient (not at the level of organization of the militaristic Galactic Alliance), the citizenry is disorganized (they don’t have ranks like a military organization), and they care for the weak and thereby waste resources. Oldham finds the outburst somewhat comical and explains that life is about more than these things. We can infer that autonomy, naturalism, and compassion are some of these more important virtues. Dr. Oldham, instead of explaining this, send Ledo to go see Bebel, who he believes will serve as a living example of why their way of life is better.

When Amy picks Ledo up after a she makes a few deliveries around town, she finally brings him to meet Bebel at last. He is precocious youth who immediately asks Ledo a lot of pointed questions about his time in the Galactic Alliance. Ledo explains that the purpose of existence for the humans beings in the Galactic Alliance is defeating the Hideauze. Life is a struggle for existence where the choices are warfare or death. Bebel asks Ledo what would happen if the war with the Hideauze ended. Taken aback, Ledo is unable to properly respond and says that he would standby for orders. Bebel pushes back: “And if those orders never came?” Hard rains begin to fall reflecting an aporia opening itself in the interiority of Ledo’s conscience. And the two, plus Amy run out amongst the rains to help collect as much freshwater from them as possible. Ledo is unfamiliar with rain, this is his first precipitation event.

When the rains subside and the conversation begins anew, Ledo responds that only the useful should exist. But Bebel makes clear that usefulness is relative to the circumstances under which one lives. A smart young man with an inventor’s bent might not be useful in the Galactic Alliance of Humankind, but it sure as hell is useful in Gargantia where engineering and technological innovations make just as much of an existential difference to the citizens who live there. Meaning, it is revealed, is not in use and is not in any one existential conflict. Once Ledo comprehends this fully and understands this new ideological umbrella it opens up an aporia that is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. He is not bound toward any one meaning or objective, but instead totally free to make his own.

As Ledo shows the ocarinas to Bebel, he finally learns their purpose. Bebel picks one up and blows into its holes, producing a beautiful song that compounds with the light drizzle of rains outside and the pallor of an evening discussing philosophically-troubling, though freeing, new truths all in a mise-en-scene of overwhelming emotion that hits Ledo sideways and allows him, for the first time, to experience the emotion of melancholy. A tragic-philosophic depressed state of intense joy that opens him toward Being, Becoming, The Void, and the beauty of it all.

 

Cody Ward

[Episode 5 review HERE]

The Villainous Empress (Gargantia Episode 3)

(If you missed it, check out part 2 HERE)

Last episode, Ensign Ledo made closer contact with the humans onboard the ship he and his Machine Caliber had unwittingly landed near. Ledo made a close connection with Amy and spoke with her for quite some time to learn more about the Gargantian fleet, what planet they were currently on (Earth), and learned that humans here eat the corpses of animals, unlike space humans in the Galactic Alliance of Humankind who aren’t as savage and unrefined. When a group of pirates attacked Gargantia, Ledo made himself useful by saving the fleet from the attack. He and Chamber attacked the fleet and annihilated all of the pirates, but unfortunately they cause more trouble than they knew by killing the pirates, who will most certainly return for revenge, and with larger numbers.

At the beginning of episode 3, the pirate revenge attack begins as more than thirty ships are sighted on the horizon heading toward Gargantia. Worst still, a few of the ships bear the Lobster insignia emblazoned upon their flags. This is the sign of the Lobster Empress Lukkage who pilots one of the sea’s most powerful Yunboro (the Earth moniker for Mechas) and rules over her men and slave cohorts as an ero demi-goddess like Eros and Thanatos combined (ie. she’s dangerous, but also hot as hell).

As the pirates approach the fleet, Fleet Commander Fairlock and his aide Ridget discuss what the next step should be. Some in the council meeting say that they should surrender, others call for a fight without Ledo who might kill people once again and cause even more future problems. But it is the third contingent who believe that their only hope to avoid much bloodshed is to ask Ledo to use his Machine Caliber Chamber once again to help fight the pirates off. After a heated debate, the commander decides that this is the right approach, but he advises Ridget to warn the boy not to kill the pirates.  Both to avoid future conflict and in keeping with Gargantian moral sentiments about not killing or harming other human beings unless in self-defense, and even then, very rarely.

The battle begins with Ledo and Chamber hovering over the action waiting to join the fight when the time is right. Gargantia attacks first while the pirate fleet is distracted by Ledo and they score a few big blows to the pirates in the opening seconds. Then the course of the battle turns and the pirates fire back, incapacitating three or four Gargantian ships in the process. Ledo begins his assault and destroys all of the cannons on the pirate ships, seemingly ensuring that they will be unable fight back and must retreat from battle.

But Lukkage has an ace up her sleeve (okay she has no sleeves, and very little articles of clothing for that matter): a powerful Lobster Yunboro that she pilots and directs toward central command of Gargantia. With the help of her two slave companions, she begins climbing the outer perimeter’s walls to attack the Fleet Commander head on. All looks pretty grim when Ledo and Chamber arrive and easily overpower the relatively primitive (ie. compared to Alliance tech Machine Calibers) Yunboro and send it and her two friends flying off into the distance.

Fleet Commander Fairlock breathes a sigh of relief before realizing that they must make some sort of pact of friendship with Ensign Ledo for his past actions in helping out the fleet, but also to keep him around to continue defending them for as long as he can. But Ledo is still an outsider and he is unsure of whether this option is truly wise in the long run. He asks aloud what the past Fleet Commander Shepard would have done and it is revealed to us viewers that this man was Ridget’s father. A new tragic backstory seems in the works, but it will be some time before the show explores this figure any closer.

 

Cody Ward

[Continued HERE]

Fear X: An Enigma

(If you missed it, check out my essay on Fear X’s place within Refn’s body of work HERE)

If you haven’t seen this film already, you should probably do so. The whole premise of me trying to untie this gordian knot and understand the film is predicated on spoilers.

In Fear X, Harry Caine (John Turturro) is a cop and loss prevention detective in a town in Wisconsin. His wife was recently murdered in the mall’s parking garage while waiting for Harry to get off of work and meet her there. Harry has been surreptitiously gaining access to all of the mall’s security cam footage for the past few weeks in the hopes of finding the perpetrator who has, as of yet, remained uncaught and unknown. When he gains the security cam footage of the parking garage, little is uncovered. He sees a blurry assailant shoot Harry’s wife and then the man turns and shoots a police officer there before leaving the garage.

The film opens with an enigmatic scene. Harry dreams that he is looking out of his front door on a snowy street ahead and that his wife is running across the street and enters the adjacent house: Address 1329. The scene is slow-motion and establishes a dream-like reverie, a nocturnal tone that will carry through the remainder of the film. Later, Harry calls his realtor and pretends that he wants to move away from his home and into 1329. But the house is rented out by a corporate account and is unavailable currently. Harry decides to break into the house and finds it austerely furnished with just a bed and a few chairs. There is no food in the fridge and there are no clothes in the closets. But he finds some film in a reel in the house’s bedroom and finds that the living room lights turn on and off automatically everyday through a timer mechanism that helps to make the home look lived in. Harry believes that his dreams are leading him toward finding his wife’s killer, and at least this first one seems to have done so.

Harry has the film developed and finds that the pictures are of a mother and her child on a road trip. The pictures have been taken by a third, unidentifiable man. But he notices a road sign for Highway 200 in Montana in the background of one photo. In another, he sees the reflection in a diner’s front door of their sign: Steve and Niki’s
Restaurant. He puts two and two together and calls the Montana tourism office for the number of the diner, then calls the diner for their address. As he plans to visit the diner in Morriston, Montana in the hopes of finding someone who knows these people, he reflects on his moral dilemma. Will he be able to kill the man who killed his wife, to dispose of one killer by making himself into a killer in the process? When he speaks to his friend, coworker, and brother-in-law about his upcoming trip, he asks Harry the same question. But Harry decides that he just wants the closure of knowing why his wife was killed and assures him, and himself, that he won’t kill the man, that he doesn’t have that sort of violence in him.

Harry dreams that night of a hotel where his wife is staying. She is with another man in the hotel. The red hotel where darkness is ubiquitous. Where a elevator shaft opens into a black corridor. Red hands and red faces push through a thick mucus of blood and silk in a surreal vision signifying less than it symbolizes. His wife’s death was instantaneous. A shot to the head. But her death is a gruesome image when channeled through Harry’s anguish and despair over it, and the enigma behind the killer who remains at large and inexplicably killed two people.

Once in Morriston, Harry finds the Hotel McLaren. The same one he dreamt of the night before. He gets the same room, Room 305, as the one in his dreams. He visits the diner in the pictures and a police officer there recognizes the woman in the photo. He says he will pass along information to her that an friend (Harry’s lie to keep his real reasoning covert) is looking for her. The officer knows the woman to be the wife of a fellow officer. He tells the man, Peter, about Harry’s inquiry. Peter realizes who the man is through his own research and finally, the secret behind the murder is disclosed: Peter is part of a covert, and illegal, corps of police officers who are rooting out corrupt cops and assassinating them. He went to Wisconsin only to kill the police officer, but Harry’s wife just happened to be there. Peter killed her to ensure that there would be no witnesses.

Peter gets a room, Room 503, in the Hotel McLaren and calls Harry up to his room to meet him. He does not tell Harry that he killed his wife, but over the course of their exchange, Harry realizes it was him. He pleads with Peter to tell him why he killed his wife, but Peter refuses to give him an answer and instead corners Harry in an elevator and shoots him in the stomach. Harry is resigned for a moment to his fate and then his rage boils over and he presses the elevator key for the fifth floor, gains the courage for his final act, and then the experimental shots of red and rage and psychosis proliferate. The elevator doors open, then close, and we the see the black corridor in front of them filled with water as if a primordial sea of man’s proclivity to violence and a sign of the eternal stillness and meaninglessness of that violence as just a wave upon the sea.

Then Harry awakens in a hospital bed. He has not been injured. There was no dead man up there in the hotel. There is no man in the police force that fits Harry’s description. Harry is released and drives off into the sunset, but not before tossing out his photographs, which we only see for a brief moment, but immediately realize are completely blurry and disclose none of the information they were once thought to.

Harry is an unreliable narrator, though he provides no narration, because the arc of the story is the story in his mind. His dreams initially seem to have some cosmic significance in pointing him toward his wife’s killer. But this significance is only the product of something like a warped mind. The meaning in these dreams is non-existent, just as the meaning of life’s events is non-existent. And it takes a warped mind to place some sort of significance on them, but our culture warps minds, doesn’t it?

The house across from Harry’s own home exists and is enigmatic because of all things he finds there and the fact that the place is rented out, but that no one lives there. But it is not a clue, because his wife’s connection to it was only in a dream of Harry’s. The photos don’t lead anywhere because they were haphazardly taken and have no relevance to the events of the story. But Harry does dream of the red hotel with black corridors, which does exist in reality. Which means that Harry has been to the hotel before. Maybe with his wife (he does dream of her there).

Early in the film, a few police officers on the case of his wife’s murder talk with Harry about the possibility that his wife may have been involved in something illegal. they have a blurry photo of the assailant’s face and seem to know who the man is, while Harry is unsure. Could it be that Harry’s wife was caught up in a criminal world and that she was the target of the murderer, and not the police officer who was also shot? If so, Harry may have realized this possibility but been so turned off by it’s implication that he created a scenario in which she was an innocent bystander. Is the story line of the cop crusading against corrupt cops just a psychological coping mechanism by Harry?

The film raises more questions than it answers. What did Harry actually do in Morriston if he had no contact with the nonexistent Peter? Does Harry often have these spells, and if so, could he have killed his own wife? If he did, why does the man in the police photo look nothing like Harry and why has he not been investigated as a suspect? What is the purpose of the house across from Harry’s? Is he being investigated and is the home a hideout for cops to stake him out and watch his actions? Or is it actually owned by a crime syndicate of which is wife was connected? Or by a businessman who visits often enough to need the home, but is not there all the time?

Like the mystery of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive two years prior, we as viewers are given many keys to unraveling the mystery. But unreliable narration and odd turns of events constantly problematize any interpretation we come up with as viewers. I’ve tried my best to unravel the film, but it does this all by itself. Unfortunately, the knot is composed of many banners that lead in opposite directions, leaving no one perfect interpretation of events that is also supported by events given to us, the viewers, within the narrative itself. This might be the nature of psychosis or the manner of world minus a telos, or endgame structure, or just an intellectual game of trickery by auteurs. Ultimately, however, through it’s unintelligibility and infinite interpretability, the film is a work of art that deserves a place within the canon of classic films like Citizen Kane, Mr. Arkadin, L’Avventura and Mulholland Drive that take their creative aim as the creation of narratological myths of mystery and enigma, of monomyths without closure.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Pusher II]

The Planet of Origin (Gargantia Episode 2)

(Episode 1 is HERE, if you missed my review of it)

Last episode Ensign Ledo kidnapped a young Earth girl named Amy while running from a group of primitive humans. He exited the ship to find himself not in space, but instead on a planet, on a ship on the ocean. The ship’s people ran out after him with weapons and now this episode begins with a stand-off. Ledo has released Amy but has called upon his Machine Caliber, Chamber, to protect him.

While Ledo and some of the ship’s workers have their stand-off, Chamber is analyzing the speech patterns of these foreign humans and building a contextual vocabulary so he can translate between Ledo and the others. The wait takes more than a day seemingly before any real contact is made between the parties that gets anything done. In the meantime, Ledo takes a few Hideauze claws off of the hull of Chamber and begins to whittle away at one of them, slowly shaping it into an ocarina. Amy speaks with the Fleet Commander Fairlock and his aide Ridget about a futility of the stand off and gains their permission to approach Ledo more closely the following day.

When their meeting comes, she presents Ledo with a cooked fish, which Chamber interprets to be the “corpse of an aquatic animal.” Ledo finds it disturbing that the humans here eat the corpses of once-living beings, but decides to try it anyway in an attempt to extend an olive branch and bond in this odd friendship ritual. From there, Amy begins to talk with Ledo while Chamber translates. She explains that the Earth was once frozen over, but has since thawed out entirely. Now the Earth is a planet of water where there is no longer any land (making the show’s subtitle “On The Verdurous Planet” somewhat suspect). All humans live on fleets that have been dredged up from the ocean’s depths and restored along with past technologies. The fleets vary drastically in size, though Gargantia is one of the largest and houses many people.

The fleet of Gargantia, as well as many other fleets, follow the ocean’s milky way path. These are vast lines of bio-luminescent light bugs that live on the ocean’s top-most layers and produce electricity. The fleet’s harness this energy to power all their electrical systems. But the constant existence of these milky way paths are probably not inevitable and one day, Gargantia may veer off course or be unable to find another milky way path and be unable to power up ever again.

As Amy and Ledo speak, a pirate fleet is reported off in the distance. They approach Gargantia and take a few boats hostage. Ledo and Chamber discuss the best course of action, whether they should intervene and protect Gargantia or wait and see who wins the battle and join that side. But Amy pleads for them to help out, so the two do so and annihilate all of the pirates, both their ships and their lives. The day seems to be saved, but for some reason the citizens of Gargantia are even more dismayed by these actions. They reason that a larger pirate fleet will now seek revenge against Gargantia.

Ledo is just now learning about Earth customs, from food, to language, to Gargantian life and seafaring. He has been trained to kill all enemies, because the enemies of the Galactic Alliance are unforgiving, literally inhumane Hideauze who pose dire existential threats to the human species. Here, he puts that training to use by eliminating all pirate threats without taking even one Gargantian casualty. However, where the Hideauze seemed never to start attacks or the revenge themselves for past ones and only fought when attacked or when humans invaded their territory, human pirates are much more psychologically complex. In the Galactic Alliance, all humans fight on the same team and now Ledo must fight against humans and obviously comes up short by being unable to understand skirmish dynamics like the people of Gargantia can.

This episode is pretty straightforward and there’s little to comment upon thematically at this point. But the next few episodes are much more interesting in my opinion in both what they reveal about Alliance society vs. Gargantian society and how Ledo changes and grows through learning about the latter’s customs and ways of life.

 

Cody Ward

[Continued HERE]

The Counselor: Nihilism, Radical Freedom, and Beauty

The Counselor is a 2013 film by Ridley Scott. Adapted from a work by Cormac McCarthy, one can immediately expect the brutality and terror of life to be omnipresent, nihilism and darkness to exist throughout as philosophical forces, and the meaninglessness of terrible situations to never be resolved, just as they are never resolved in real life, in the real world. Some might read a McCarthy novel like Outer Dark and find it to be too bleak, too lacking in optimism, too jaded and worn in its assessment of the world. But the story of The Counselor lays bare the fact that although some evil is the result of mere banality, just doing one’s job, other forms are done for the very sake of evil in the forms of greed and corruption.

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is a lawyer working in and around El Juarez on the Mexico-Texas border. He hears constant news of violent deaths in the city numbering in the thousands yearly. Mostly senseless deaths of innocent bystanders or those involved with the cartels. But there is a deal for some coke that he can invest in and stand to increase his profit on by a factor of some 4,000%. So he gets in on it, but with a man with a conniving ex-whore girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) who turns the deal around in a bloody way and has the cartel out for the hide of the Counselor as well as her boyfriend Reiner (Javier Bardem) and their accomplice Westray (Brad Pitt). The resulting events include beheadings, shootouts, automatic bolito carotid artery piercing nooses, and gruesome murders in the makings of snuff material.

There are two spiritual cores in the narrative, as there are in many of McCarthy’s works. The first involves a diamond dealer (Bruno Ganz) in Amsterdam who sells a beautiful gem to The Counselor who offers it to his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz) in exchange for her hand in marriage. The dealer explains that a perfect diamond is colorless and only refracts light back. The perfect diamond is completely clear, like a glass pane, and as such, is not highly valued. The role of the diamond dealer is to produce and cut imperfect diamonds just on the cusp of perfection. The diamond as a jewel for jewelry adorns the adorned one who is presented with the object. When the man proposes with the imperfect diamond, he recognizes and celebrates the imperfection in the one he presents it to, whilst also being able to reflect on his own imperfections.

Contrast this aesthetic theory of beauty as the near-perfect imperfect that reflects the imperfect in all other things with the figure of Malkina. She is beautiful. Maybe perfect in outward physicality. But this outward perfection obscures a deeper evil. The perfect diamond is ultimately blank and ugly and undesirable. Malkina is likewise. Whereas Laura is imperfect and is a reasonable object of love for The Counselor, Malkina is outwardly perfect and therefore an unreasonable object of love for Reiner. The same goes for trust. Laura is trustworthy through thick and thin and remains by The Counselor’s side even under the worst circumstances, whilst Malkina sells out all her friends and even her lover.

The second spiritual core of the film occurs when The Counselor calls the Jefe of a large cartel for advice on what to do now that the cartel has turned against him. The Jefe recites a poem by Antonio Machado:

“Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.”

“Wanderer, there is no road. The road is made by walking.”

He then tells The Counselor that “you are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, that world you have created will also cease to exist.” This is a radical statement about Being as Becoming. It is non-essentialist as they come in its total repudiation of the concept of forms (Platonic forms) as well as the self as eternal objects that exist beyond their examples as actually functioning things in the world. The Counselor made certain decisions that led to who he has become and that created the road he now treads silently and in darkness. He can only resign himself to these facts and try, if he survives, to become a different being by making different choices in the future.

There’s a radical freedom at the heart of nihilist narratives. When there is no God, no meaning, no ultimate ground, no hypostasis, and events just unfold without any rhyme or reason, all is permitted. But prior choices narrow the field of our initial freedom under this paradigm. And each choice leads to fewer and fewer outcomes. Eventually, we are bound to the paths we are on because we laid them freely and there are no longer any exit signs beyond running aground, off the road, and into a tree (the always-present choice of suicide Camus was so adamant about). The Counselor may have once been free, but he laid himself a path that will always haunt him and prevent him from making certain choices (visiting Mexico, working as a public figure,etc.).

Many reviewers decried the film’s nihilism and pessimism. But these elements were warnings that can help direct people onto better paths. Some saw the film as too lacking in style to match the apparently brisk-paced action. But this lack of style reflects a philosophical mood of resignation at the heart of The Counselor’s character. The only really valid criticism of the film, in my opinion, is that it is equivalent in power to the book that produced it. That is to say, the film needn’t have been made in the first place. But I’m pretty glad it was. Thanks to Ridley Scott.

 

Cody Ward

[And maybe that’s the beauty of life. That the radical freedom we feel we have (though an illusion) is narrowed by each choice we make. Even that bit of freedom becomes imperfect and our choices must be more hard-fought and in the process, more valuable.]

Panda! Go, Panda! パンダ・コパンダ

(Check out my essay on Isao Takahata’s previous film Horus if you haven’t already!)

After the box office failure of Horus in 1968, Toei Studios relegated Isao Takahata to lower positions as a pickup storyboard director for episodes of shows like Kitaro, The Secret of Akko-chan, Ataro the Workaholic, and Apache Baseball Team. Likewise, his contemporary Hayao Miyazaki and their mentor and colleague Yasuo Otsuka found much difficulty getting work at Toei during this time and decided in 1971 to leave Toei altogether to join A Productions Studio. Once there, the three had greater creative freedom and the backing of a company willing to put up money for their projects.

The first attempt by Takahata to create a film for the studio fell apart however. Takahata and Miyazaki were fond of children’s literature (a theme we find in their animated television shows later in the decade like Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Anne of Green Gables). They developed a fixation on the Pippi Longstocking’s property and stories, wrote a script for an animated film, and even visited the creator of the character, Astrid Lingren, in Sweden to gain her permission and the rights to the property. Lingren turned down their proposal however and their plans were foiled.

In the meantime, the popular manga series Lupin III by Monkey Punch was just then getting its first adaptation into an animated series. By episode six of the series, however, it was evident that the show was not doing well and had very low ratings. A Productions Studio asked Otsuka, Takahata, and Miyazaki to co-direct the series, they accepted, and the rest is history. Miyazaki took over direction for the second season and the Lupin III The Castle of Cagliostro film, but by that point, the three’s work on the series had propelled it to mainstream success. In 1972, Takahata was still very interested in the Pippi Longstockings story and had adapted a somewhat related, but ultimately original idea for a short film about a Pippi-like child left home alone for the week, and a visit by some unusual guests in the form of a Father and Son Panda duo, newly escaped from a local zoo.

In September 1972, the Japanese government acquired a pair of Panda cubs from China for display in the Ueno Zoo. The acquisition was part of what is now known as Panda Diplomacy whereby some East Asian and South-east Asian nations began to have closer diplomatic relations through cultural trade, the Panda being the most visible symbol of this trade. This acquisition of Pandas led to a Panda craze in Japan, and Takahata capitalized on the moment by releasing Panda, Go Panda! with help from Miyazaki as writer, layout artist, and scene designer, as well as Yoshifumi Kondo as key animator (who would later go on to direct Whisper of the Heart for Studio Ghibli before passing away from karoshi, or overwork, in 1998). The film was a box office success and later spawned a sequel, also directed by Takahata.

In the film, a young girl named Mimiko walks her grandmother to the train station where she will depart from to visit Nagasaki for a few days, leaving Mimiko (who has to go to school) behind. But Mimiko isn’t anxious about being left alone. Her personality is strong-willed, she is self-reliant, and her precociousness ensures that others in the community will keep an eye out on her to make sure she is alright and has everything she needs in the interim. She has no parents, so when she arrives home to find a baby panda and a large father panda roaming about her home’s bamboo groves, she takes the opportunity to make friends with them and establish them as more than just guests, but as make-believe family members. As the events unfold, policemen and a zookeeper search for the pandas, Mimiko teaches Pani (the baby panda) about life outside of a zoo, the father panda becomes interested in human life and plans to one day hold down a day job to be a good stand-in father for Mimiko, Pani goes missing, the town searches him out, and everyone works together to find and save the little guy from peril.

Although not thematically or intellectually on the same level as Takahata’s previous film Horus, Panda! Go, Panda! displays a marked increase in production quality and design. Most images in the film are beautifully drawn and could be taken out of context and framed and hung on a wall. Whereas the imagery of Horus is pretty jarring to watch today (minus the really strong kinetic action sequences), Panda! Go, Panda! is much closer to the look of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, less dated, and more akin to what we think of today as the Studio Ghibli style of animation. In these senses, the film was a huge step forward for Japanese animation at the time (though not quite as radical a statement or bold a step as Horus). And if nothing else, the father panda is a prototype for Totoro, and that counts for a lot for Studio Ghibli fans like me.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Panda! Go, Panda! The Rainy-Day Circus]

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